A frustrating debut that doesn’t reach nearly far enough. But don’t bet that it won’t become very, very popular.

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COLUMBUS SLAUGHTERS BRAVES

Echoes of Bang the Drum Slowly, The Natural, and Brian’s Song are heard throughout this literate weeper about an athlete dying young: an intermittently incisive though ultimately flat first novel.

The story’s narrated—in a pleasingly lucid, confident voice—by Joe Columbus, the older brother who watches with mingled amazement, subdued pride, and rancorous envy as his sibling CJ becomes a baseball phenom and a beloved public figure. Joe drifts into marriage with his college girlfriend Beth, then settles into a career as a high-school science teacher as she moves into a high-pressure law firm. Meanwhile, golden boy CJ—as intelligent, friendly, and generous as he is athletically gifted—rises from sandlot prominence in their southern California neighborhood to dazzling success as the Chicago Cubs’ All Star third baseman, even challenging Joe DiMaggio’s consecutive game-hitting streak. Friedman forcefully communicates the jealousy even Joe knows is irrational and unfair (“What I really wanted was that some thing, the smallest thing, would be denied him”). But there isn’t really a whole lot of novel here. Subplots involving Joe’s dealings with a problem student, Beth’s relationship with a colleague who uses her as model for a character in his fiction, and the couple’s incompatibility, seemingly cured by her surprise pregnancy, bear a token relation to the main plot here, but really only manage to distract our attention from it. Even potentially strong scenes, like Joe’s nighttime visit with his father to “Nikeland” while CJ lies gravely ill in a hospital, are inexplicably truncated, as if Friedman saw no need to develop them. Still, there’s no doubt that the Cain-and-Abel tension between the brothers engages our attention, or that the emotional closing pages do not have genuine impact.

A frustrating debut that doesn’t reach nearly far enough. But don’t bet that it won’t become very, very popular.

Pub Date: March 29, 2001

ISBN: 0-618-02520-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2000

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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